Project-Based Learning Activities for Elementary School Kids

Two elementary school students beside a globe.
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Passively listening to the teacher lecture isn't the most engaging way for elementary school students to learn. Although some direct instruction is necessary, the National Association for the Education of Young Children notes that a primary school curriculum should include connections between different concepts in a fun-filled way. Project-based learning strategies can help link up different content areas in a creative way that draws young students in and puts them at the center of the educational process.

1 School Garden

An elementary school garden project provides the students with a sense of community while they learn science concepts. The school garden promotes learning in math, nutrition, biology, ecology, the arts and motor development. For example, the students in all elementary school grades can plant seeds and discuss the growing cycle. As they water the seeds and watch them sprout, they will learn what plants require to thrive, as well as bridging math concepts by measuring daily or weekly growth. You can add art activities by asking younger students in kindergarten and the early elementary years to identify what colors and shapes the plants are or by having them document the project with drawings. When the vegetables are ready, the students can pick them to make a nutritious class salad. Add a literacy lesson by asking older elementary school students to write a description or poem about the beauty of their garden.

2 Class Newspaper

Newspapers inform, educate and keep readers posted on what's going on locally and around the globe. Create a newspaper project with language, literacy, art and social studies content for older students who are developmentally ready to tackle research-based tasks. By third grade, many students are able to conduct brief research projects with minimal adult help. Ask each student to choose two article topics -- one local theme about the school and another from real-life current events -- and provide research guidance for their topics. Research may include using the computer, going to the library or interviewing other people, such as classmates or the principal. Make it easy to print the paper by having the students type their articles into word processing documents. Add artwork to accompany the stories. Try a photography activity in which the students take their own pictures that you download or have them draw illustrations that you can scan.

3 Problem Solvers

While it's not likely that your grade school students will solve world hunger or find a cure for the common cold, they can work together to solve a more age-appropriate problem. Identify an issue or area of concern and brainstorm ideas, asking the students what they think common problems are. You can also focus this on a specific area, such as ecology and the environment. For example, students third grade and up can work together to solve the problem of the overflowing trash cans at the school. Students can investigate -- online, in books and by talking to experts -- ways to recycle different types of trash. Younger students can solve a less complex problem, such as what to do with the excess paper scraps for art class. Include an in-class visit from a local nature or science expert, and encourage the students to ask questions. Have each student write his own research paper on ways to recycle and reuse, then create accompanying posters.

4 Build It

You can use an architecture project to bridge content in math, science, art, literacy and social studies. Discuss world architecture, showing your students pictures of buildings from different countries, cultures and times. Vote on a type of building that the class will build. The students can work as a team to list what they need to include to make the building functional and aesthetically pleasing. Make blueprints, using the math skills of older grade school students to draw it to scale. Younger students in kindergarten through grade two can identify basic geometric shapes in a building. For example, a rectangle makes a door. Create a miniature model using cardboard, paper, glue and other craft items and have the students decorate the outside of the building with paints or markers to complete the model.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.